A New ‘Today’ for Meredith Vieira

Sep 11, 2006  •  Post A Comment

On the 52nd floor of NBC’s Manhattan headquarters, Matt Lauer and his new “Today” co-anchor Meredith Vieira-with just six days to go before the start of their on-air professional pairing-are telling a gaggle of reporters they are ready for their Wednesday debut.

Ms. Vieira has been boning up by attending “Today” staff meetings, asking questions and getting to know the overnight crew.

She’s once again reading The New York Times and The Washington Post back to back and focusing less on People magazine and the celebrity tabloids that were so helpful during her nine years as co-host of ABC’s “The View,” where she was the good-humored voice of reason.

And she’s already got herself on the early-to-bed, very-very-early-to-rise regime-except for an unscheduled trip to Staples on the night before school started.

She has gotten acquainted with Mr. Lauer on the golf course and with weatherman and culinary king Al Roker over barbecue.

Ms. Vieira and Mr. Lauer have taped promotional spots for about 30 local stations affiliated with NBC and did a mock first half-hour of “Today” complete with interviews and remote hookups in the “Today” studio, which has been overhauled for a fresh look and hi-def-ness.

“I think I speak for Meredith when I say, `Let’s get going,”‘ Mr. Lauer says.

But mere days before the Lauer-Vieira high-definition chapter begins, the studio does not look so ready to go. There seems to be an electrician and carpenter for every square foot of the expanded “Today” complex, which includes the studio that made street-side digs a must-have for its morning-show competitors.

As soon as the renovation was greenlighted, “Today” executive producer Jim Bell turned to two men he’d worked with covering the Olympic Games for NBC Sports: Jeremy Conway and Ted Wells.

Mr. Wells has changed out every light in the studio. Single source dominant key lights are important in keeping “Today” talent and guests looking good in high definition, says Mr. Wells.

ABC’s “Good Morning America” turned to warm, saturated reds and yellows when it went hi-def in fall 2005.

“Today’s” palette is cool blues and whites. Very little exposed wood remains. Even when the set is dressed out with flowers and books and other bibelots, it will look clean and streamlined. The main areas-home base, where the anchors sit during the first half-hour; and the small and large interview alcoves-are in their familiar positions because “It really is the best layout for the studio,” Mr. Conway said. But home base can roll and collapse into a credenza to improve the studio’s view of Rockefeller Plaza across Manhattan’s 49th Street.

Surfaces are important in the hi-def format that sees everything. Some white surfaces are sanded and polished to glow. Many of the blue surfaces are covered with stretch vinyl that has been minutely perforated for visual interest. The floor is covered with a soft gray vinyl that muffles footsteps.

Throughout the studio are acrylic backdrops and overhangs that will filter, diffuse and display light and color, and high-resolution LED panels that can display pretty much anything Mr. Bell and his creative team want.

Upstairs, once underutilized space will be the “Today” kitchen.

Downstairs, there’s a newly expanded and equipped control room; a big, new makeup room that can handle more people than the old upstairs space could; a small office for the overnight producers; and a gray “green room.”

The repurposed Olympics set that sheltered the “Today” team outdoors all summer will be packed up and put in storage, but Mr. Bell so enjoyed the way it performed he’s already thinking about its possible use next summer.

When the executive producer says the set is the biggest of the changes being made on “Today,” he means, “We’re not going to be coming up with any gimmicks.”